Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The book of Book

It's nice to learn about the Shepard. He probably ties with River for the most interesting character in the whole 'Verse and his appearances in Serenity and Firefly are chock-full of cryptic clues about his past.

Of all the Serenity comic collections I've read in the last year The Shepard's Tale is by far the most cohesive and compelling. Its structure is unique to the series, largely running backward, and it reveals enough of Book's backstory to give him gravitas but doesn't get into enough minutiae to bore you with the character.

I think the graphic novel is helped by the fact that it's largely plotless. Book's story is a closed circuit, we know he was born at some point and we know when he dies so there's a limit to what can be done that erases the need for an action-driven plot and lets you wallow in characterization.

I mean it's not completely without a plot, the book has a skeleton of a story that runs backward in time but the story is totally secondary to learning Book's motivations and personality. He comes away stronger when you know the secrets he's full of.

I liked The Shepard's Tale a lot better than I've liked any of the other Serenity books and I think it's probably the end of the line for me; I don't want to read any more, I think this is the best I'm going to get out of this world, and it feels like it's okay to walk away from the story now. Maybe someday I'll want to hear what ever happened to River or Simon but for now I have enough answers about this world and I'm happy to walk away from it with The Shepard's Tale as my last step along the way.

     - Alli

Here's where you can find it on Amazon.

Unadorned poetry

Michael Arnzen's Dying is a chapbook of poetry written as a parody of Martha Stewart Living. The concept is compelling but each of the 16 poems seems like it was going for the easiest laugh possible.

Most of the poems are under 100 words, the final poem is the longest, and all of the poems ask how a murderer who was also into crafting and home decor would consider the uses of their victims.

The poems themselves aren't bad, and there are bright spots of linguistic cleverness that make the book fun enough to read but overall I'm glad I didn't pay for this.

The best part of the chapbook is the concept, the most well executed part is the cove art. You're left wondering why someone dedicated the time and money to making this one silly idea into a 20-page reality.

It seems like it was a lot of fun to write but there's a problem when your 16-page book is tedious.

     - Alli

Suicide Club

Nick Hornby is an author I've read more than my fair share of and it's someone else's turn. Really this is only the third Hornby I've read (High Fidelity and Slam were the other two) and I think I may already be tired of his style.

Hornby's books seem to be all surface and no substance with a lot of bland narration by unsympathetic English men. A Long Way Down shakes that up a bit by including a dull American man, an unsympathetic English woman, and an actually fascinating character into the narrative mix.

The story is told from the perspectives of four people who happened to run into one another when they all attempted suicide in the same location on New Year's Eve. There's a scummy journalist who has lost his family and been to prison for having sex with a fifteen year old girl (the book never commits to saying rape though it probably should), a musician with a band that has recently broken up, a young woman who probably has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and a devout Catholic woman who has spent twenty years caring for her severely disabled son.

The premise, of course, is that there's really not a good reason to kill yourself and that there's always a tomorrow to look to and you're responsible for seeking out your own happiness and satisfaction is possible but I just have trouble buying it. Everyone is very kind to and understanding of Maureen, the woman who cares for her disabled son, and everyone totally understands why she would want to kill herself because caring for a disabled person is a living hell.

Which is ableist as fuck. And that never gets addressed - Maureen wishes her son would die and we only ever hear that from her narrative perspective, that isn't something the other characters challenge or attempt to help her cope with, that's just left to lie. Eventually Maureen doesn't wish for her son to be dead because she's learned that she can distribute the burden of care. That's just not a good thing. There are giant systems that create people who feel the way that Maureen does and they've spawned the anti-vax movement to try to avoid the possibility of being "burdened" with autistic children.

Martin, the skeevy TV host, accepts that he's never contributed anything to the world and gets his happy ending by teaching a terrible child to read but who the fuck is letting a convicted rapist tutor their child? That's a huge problem with not addressing that his divorce, the loss of his job, and his imprisonment aren't the result of easy-to-make mistakes but are the result of him having sex with someone who is below the legal age of consent. We're given a lot of perspective about his conservative middle-class attitudes but all that we're told about his victim is that she looked older than fifteen and met him at a party. That's pretty classic victim blaming coming from an author who's supposed to be something of a humorist.

The whole book attempts to understand and sympathize with people who are suicidal, it wants you to laugh with their pain and think about what might make you suicidal and how petty and strange it would seem to outsiders, but the whole thing really seems dismissive. Suicide is complicated and there can be very funny elements when discussing it with people who are suicidal but attempting to get into the head of someone suicidal in a novel that doesn't know where it wants to go doesn't seem to be a really good way to get at the heart of the issue.

This was a fairly quick read, but not one that I enjoyed.

     - Alli

Hornby, Nick. A Long Way Down. Riverhead Books. New York: New York. 2006. (2005).

Like Stephenson without the scifi

Maximalism is a term to describe literature that I hadn't heard until a couple of years ago and I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that it applied to Michael Chabon. While I haven't read Wonderboys I know that one character criticizes another for the fact that he was incapable of editing details out of his book - she accuses him of not making any choices.

Telegraph Avenue is actually only the second Chabon novel I've read, the first was a copy of The Yiddish Policeman's Union that I had picked up as a free book on a buy-two-get-one-free sale and actually now that I think about it the only reason I got Telegraph Avenue was because I found it at the 99 Cents Only store.

Good news: It's totally worth a dollar.

I really enjoyed reading the book it just seemed to drag a lot. I wasn't as interested Archy, the central figure of the novel, as I was in all of the characters surrounding him but I'm sure that was intentional. Archy is a lost man who doesn't know what to make of his life while the people around him are all very sure of what they want. His wife wants to make midwifery and intimacy with pregnancy more accessible to women of color than it is to her granola-infused customers; his father Luther wants very very badly to make a sequel to the film that was the centerpiece of his glory days; his business partner wants to sell records and keep a sense of community; his business competitor wants to create an empire. Archy is lost while being surrounded by people who know exactly what they want and that contrast serves to make ALL of the characters more interesting.

There's a lot going on on every page, and a lot of cool details, but it sometimes the writing felt like it was showing off for the sake of showing off. There's a whole chapter that is about ten pages long and all one sentence and it almost made me tear the pages out of the book. That's some Hawthorne bullshit right there and I will not stand for it.

But other than some ostentation and a drifting center the book is a fine read and, again, totally worth the dollar I paid for it.

     - Alli

Chabon, Michael. Telegraph Avenue. Harper. New York: New York. 2012.

Missing pieces and quiet pages

Better Days and Other Stories is basically a collection of Firefly vignettes. None of the stories is long enough for an arc on its own but all of them are worth adding to the Firefly Universe.

That said, you can probably skip it. I liked reading these little bits and bobs that filled in details of the 'Verse, but none of them really seemed to give any extra dimension or depth to the characters. We know Wash is awesome. We know he kicks ass. We're all sad he's gone. Turns out the characters are sad too. Okay.

Zoe's story about being a resistance fighter after the peace was signed is probably the most interesting add-on, but even that is something that viewers could have put together from the materials in the TV series and Serenity. Having extra details doesn't make her more compelling, it just gives you extra details.

I have one more Firefly collection to review and I think that's it for me. I'm bored with these books to the point that I'm glad the series got cancelled. If it had continued like this instead of progressing as a story I'd have given up on it. When I finished watching the show I wanted more, when I saw Serenity it felt like not enough, but after having read these comics I feel like the movie was really all the closure that fans needed. These comics could theoretically run forever and that's a daunting, depressing thing to contemplate. I don't need to see Zoe coping with single motherhood, I don't need to see Mal and Inara bickering over her work forever, I don't need to watch Kailee tinkering with a ship. River and Simon are interesting characters who DO have a lot that could be done with them, maybe tracking down other kids who were experimented on like River or finding help for her that could also cure the Reavers or *something* but that's not the sort of story I'm seeing from these comics and so I sort of don't want to continue reading them.

Which is a bummer. But also kind of a relief.

     - Alli

I'm pretty sure no one is using this blog as reference so I don't give a shit about putting together an MLA-correct citation for this book here's the Amazon link.